The Possibilities of Cymbeline, or how a box and a sheet changed my life.

I just realized I never updated about our impromptu roadtrip last week. I knew you were all worried.

Last year, I went to New York on a whim with my mom. Standing in line at the TKTX booth, we were arguing over what to go see, and I noticed that there was a single Shakespeare listed on the “plays” side of the board: some random theatre company was doing Cymbeline.

I talked her into it under the promise that I would go see Mary Poppins the next night. The deal made, we set off for Greenwich Village, to the Barrow Street Theatre where my life would change completely in an evening.  Alright, maybe my life didn’t change, but my opinion on the possibilities of theatrical convention were entirely shifted.

I thought that I had written about this before. Frankly, I’m surprised I haven’t, but then I realized, I’m glad that I hadn’t because it took my third viewing of the show last week for what it was about the show to really get to me.

(We’ll get to the 3rd time in a minute).

I often say “the best thing ever” and “it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen”. Here, please note that I really do mean that quite literally, without a hint of my usual sarcasm and/or hyperbole.

Hands down, the Fiasco Theatre’s production of Cymbeline was the best show I have ever seen. Ever.

I have turned into a Fan Girl over this company, and it is a little bit embarrassing. Okay, a lot embarrassing because I’m not the “I get super excited” kid. I’m the “yeah, it was pretty cool I guess” kid. I don’t run out of theatres going “ohmygodohmygod”, I coolly amble out of theatres going “I can’t believe she didn’t announciate the third troche”. (Okay, I’ve never said that in my life, but you get the idea).  Like, I sent them an email. A GUSHY email.

Anyway, so the show, the first time, was kind of a haze of magical amazingness.

Frankly, I don’t remember much about that actual viewing aside from the sheer joy I felt afterwards. That over-arching “holy shit, I can’t believe I got to see THAT happen just witnessed something magic” theatre joy that renders you an addict and keeps high school kids doing drama even after their parents stop patronizing them. That magic. You remember. The first time you saw something that “clicked” and you said “that. that is what I want to do”. That was the moment I had, again. Only it was better, because instead of being excited that people were clapping for me, I was happy for the actors. I was clapping because they got to do this, because they got to see this vision realized, because I got to be there for it.  I was happy that this got to exist.

I can’t imagine how hard it must be to put on a show in new work. I have friends who are playwrights, I’ve written plays of my own, but in New York, especially, where it seems like big flashy musicals are the focus— here was a troupe of 7 performing a 300 year old play with a bedsheet and a wooden box. I loved them for that.

When my mom asked me if I wanted to go back to New York, I had one caviat– that we go see the 2nd to last performance of Cymbeline again. I wanted to re-asses. See if maybe those sneaky actors hadn’t just impressed me with their costume design and their staging but secretly sucked.


The 2nd time I took notes. Not like, douchey high school kid doing a report notes, but mental notes. The verse work. The simplicity. Oh, the simplicity. (We’ll get to that in a second, too).  Everything was still amazing. Sure, that particular evening had some snafus, but that made it better for me– see, real people!

It’s ridiculous, even now, because I’m trying to write a fair and balanced account, but I can’t, because I just want to gush all over this blog about OH MY GOD THE BOX and OH MY GOD THE SONGS and well…just…oh my god, right?

So it happened through a series of events that I found out that Fiasco was going to be performing Cymbeline in San Diego. I was bummed, because it was so very far away, but then I realized that on their way out there, they were going to be stopping in Milwaukee.

Holy shit, bro.

I can’t talk about this play as an actor. I can’t because I get far too excited and derpy about the ridiculous attention to detail to in anyway convey that I am a mature, trained Shakesperean actress with actual experience and technique under my belt. I can’t figure it out. I can watch goddamn Captain Picard play Macbeth and be like “yeah that’s pretty cool I guess”, but watching 7 random strangers performing Cymbeline renders me physically incapable of using any terms more complicated than “ZOMG ITS LIKE SO GOOD”.

Anyway, so I convinced a group of friends to tag along, most specifically Jake, which was awesome, because after months of listening to me yap about the show, he finally got to see it for himself.

It timed out perfectly, too– our one night off of rehearsal was the night they would be in Milwaukee, so at 3 that afternoon, we began the trek down. (It is here that I would mention that driving to Canada to see Titus still ranks as the most ridiculous of roadtrips, but the there-and-back nature of this trip made it pretty epic as well).

And…there it was. (Mostly) just like I remembered it, save for the details in the house of the theatre and two replacement actors (who I thought did really well, except that a have a small crush on one of the original actors…and his ukulele).  Anyway, it was the show I remembered with the added thrill of getting to look over at Jake and my other friends during the bits of Particularly Outstanding Awesome and seeing their faces. And then regretting taking them because they’d know that I totally ripped off my brilliant directing ideas. Damn. I guess I’ll have to come up with my own.

Still wonderful, still fantastically simple, still seamless, still brilliant.

The next day, I went back to rehearsal and someone asked me why I seemed so bothered, and I couldn’t put my finger on it, until someone else asked me how the show had been.

Then I figured it out.

What I love about Fiasco’s Cymbeline is that for me, personally, it’s a challenge.

How do you take a small group of actors and produce something extraordinary? You do it with a bed sheet and a box that becomes ALL THE SETS. You do it with music, with sets, with costumes. Right now you’re like, duh, Catie, that’s what a show is—but it’s more than that.

It’s the vision. It’s the simplicity of meaningful words produced in a meaningful way. It’s why I am so excited for Antigone this spring. It’s because I have that chance. I have limitless possibilities to create that magic. It’s not about a complicated set and a bazillion flashy costumes or set pieces or props.

It’s about the words and the action and the seamless blending of the two into something bigger than the elements and the actors themselves. I would kill for an opportunity to work with Fiasco on a show like that, to experience that sort of intense process in creating an altogether seamless show, but I know that is a pipe dream more than something that could ever come to fruition (but if you’re ever looking for a Lavinia, Fiasco…you know who to call.)

What is not, impossible, however, is bringing that aesthetic, that drive, that passion home with me.

I am challenging myself to walk out of the theatre feeling like I did the first time I saw Cymbeline. Granted, Antigone is a tragedy and Cymbeline has a wacky, plot-twist filled happy ending, but I believe at the core, it’s not about the subject matter. It’s about the passion and the knowledge that a wooden box and a bed sheet can create an entire world.

And I want to create it.

Fiasco Theatre <—-clicky link.

One Reply to “The Possibilities of Cymbeline, or how a box and a sheet changed my life.”

  1. Don’t you love when that happens? I know that it’s hard not to gush all over the place after seeing theatre that moves you like that. I’ve heard only wonderful things about this production!

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